Ask LH: What Does Free Social Networking On My Mobile Actually Mean?

Dear Lifehacker, My daughter uses Vodafone and has just been hit with a $100 bill for her Facebook usage — even though she gets Facebook for free on her plan. Apparently, you have to use the browser version for this to apply. If you use the Facebook app you pay normal data charges. What's going on? Is that reasonable? Thanks, Anti-Social

Phone user picture from Shutterstock

Dear Anti-Social,

This restriction is annoying and not always well-promoted, but it has long been the case that "free social networking" on mobile plans is restricted to using the on-phone browser, rather than using the apps (official or otherwise). That applies not just to Facebook, but also to Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, eBay and MySpace, which are the usual services that are offered without data charges on those plans.

At a technical level, this comes down to tracking your activity. Browser requests to a specific domain (such as facebook.com) can easily be identified, but data sent from an app won't necessarily be in that format (and the way requests are made may alter each time the app is updated).

This is likely to be less of an issue in the future, if only because the "free" options are disappearing as telcos try and make more money from data. Optus dropped free social networking from its contract plans last December, and Vodafone dropped it from its prepaid plans in January, having already removed the option for new customers on its contract plans. (Evidently, your daughter signed up before that happened.)

The lesson has presumably been learned for the future: while the browser version may be less convenient, it's free (at least for the time being). In terms of the existing $100 bill, we'd suggest contacting Vodafone and asking for a detailed breakdown of that data usage. Providers often struggle to provide that information, and under the circumstances they may agree to waive some or all of the bill.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Sorry Lifehacker, that's incorrect.

    Vodafone's free social networking is for both the official app and the mobile site (as is clearly outlined in the terms and conditions of plans with those inclusions). The distinction comes with the type of activity that you're doing. Basically, any data that travels through m.facebook.com (whether by app or browser) is free rated. The catch, is that there's a lot you can do in Facebook that doesn't go through their domain.

    Uploading, streaming shared YouTube links, clicking on links to external sites - all examples of things you can do on both the mobile site and official app, that will still be billed as regular data. This is because the data you use to do these things, isn't being directed the the m.facebook.com domain, so it's not recognised as "Facebook usage"

      I'll have to take your word on the T&Cs, since Vodafone no longer offers these plans. It's certainly easier in-app to access non-Facebook data, so I'd say the basic advice remains the same.

        Given that the content displayed in the browser and app are ostensibly the same, I don't see how you consider it to be easier to access non-Facebook content through the app.

        In actuality, unless Facebook is set as your homepage when you open your browser, you'll waste more data simply navigating to the page when using your browser.

        You can also check out the terms and conditions for pretty much any Vodafone plan that's been offered in the last couple of years, on their website here:

        http://www.vodafone.com.au/aboutvodafone/legal/plan-details

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